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Wrongful Death: Clements Inmate Alton Rodgers’ family seeks $120M in suit against TDCJ

Posted on October 12, 2016 by Jesse Quackenbush


The family of Alton Rodgers has filed a wrongful death lawsuit against the Texas Department of Criminal Justice on his behalf, seeking $120 million in damages.

Amarillo lawyer Jesse Quackenbush filed the suit Tuesday on behalf of Rodgers’ mother, Gwendolyn Delores Patrick, and individually and on behalf of the Alton Rodgers estate.

“The primary purpose of the lawsuit is to change the way they treat inmates who are suffering very serious diseases,” Quackenbush said Tuesday. “The state of Texas refuses to acknowledge that there may be a serious problem with health treatment of inmates.”

The suit names 33 past and present members of the TDCJ. At the time of the incident the TDCJ recommended that one supervisor at the Clements Unit prison be fired, and 17 others face disciplinary actions.

In addition to wrongful death, Rodgers’ family is suing for, “denial, delay and withholding of medical care and deliberate indifference to medical and security needs, in violation of the Eighth Amendment,” according to the suit.

Rodgers, 31, died on Jan. 19, at Northwest Texas Hospital after he was found unresponsive in his cell. At the time his death was ruled a homicide after it was reported there was an altercation between Rodgers and his cellmate, Joe Greggs.

Rodgers was serving a life sentence for the capital murder of a peace officer in Dallas County in 2005. He was transferred to the Clements Unit in 2006.

Preliminary autopsy reports concluded he died from a left subdural hemorrhage, bleeding of the brain, and a skull fracture caused by blunt force trauma.

Quackenbush said Tuesday that Greggs has denied there was ever an altercation between the two, and that guards on duty that night did not witness an assault on Rodgers.

TDCJ requires correctional officers to check on inmates every 30 minutes.

Quackenbush alleges that Rodgers was suffering from tuberculosis at the time of his death, which the lawyer claims went untreated by the staff.

The TDCJ has denied a request to retest Rodgers’ pathology samples to confirm a tuberculosis diagnosis.

“It is not appropriate for forensic samples collected in a criminal investigation to be tested, and subsequently destroyed, for purposes of a civil lawsuit,” Deborah D. Dictson, a prosecutor for TDCJ’s Special Prosecution Unit, wrote in a denial letter dated Sept. 12. “The samples collected must remain intact and available for any additional testing that may be requested by defense counsel appointed in the criminal case.”

The criminal investigation Dictson refers to is the state’s criminal investigation into Greggs’ possible involvement in Rogers’ death, which Quackenbush disputes.

Medical records show that Rodgers had previously been diagnosed with tuberculosis in 2002 while he was an inmate at the Clements Unit.

“It’s a matter of public urgency, in light of the undiagnosed tuberculosis which is rampant in the prison system,” Quackenbush continued.

“By refusing to test the pathology samples they sent a clear message that they’re not concerned with the health of those in the prison and to the public in general,” he said.

The full autopsy results, obtained by the Amarillo Globe-News through an information request, showed Rodgers was described by one medical examiner as being in an advanced “starving” state that is more often associated with advanced cancer patients or Holocaust survivors.

At the time of his death Rodgers, who stood 6-foot-7, weighed 148 pounds with a body mass index of 16.7, which is considered “too low” to be healthy.

“One thing we know for certain is his cellmate didn’t starve him to death or cause malnutrition,” Quackenbush added. “What (the TDCJ) is saying is his death was caused by an altercation, what does that have to do with the fact that he was dying of malnutrition and starvation?”

The TDCJ denied the claims of starvation in April.

TDCJ public information officer Robert Hurst spoke with the Globe-News in April saying that, “the notion that the offender was ‘starved’ is inaccurate. Food trays were delivered every day to his cell, and records indicate he purchased food from the commissary. There is no evidence to suggest that food was ever withheld from Rodgers.”

According to TDCJ medical documents, as well as an autopsy report acquired by the Globe-News, Rodgers suffered from various ailments in 2015 such as varying weight, intermittent loss of vision in his right eye and he complained of not being able to keep food down.

Rodgers’ mother was not available for comment on the lawsuit being filed, but did issue a statement on Quackenbush’s website.

“It makes me feel awful because it’s such a slow death,” Patrick said. “Starvation, lack of medical, all the weight loss, everything my son went through could have been prevented just by helping him out. He needed medical care and he wasn’t getting it.”

Story provided by Amarillo Globe-News. 

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